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Footnotes: Akwaaba

Footnotes is the section in our magazine where we take a deeper look at the music surrounding our feature artists. With Benjamin Lebrave's label, Akwaaba, and his column for TheFADER.com, we don't have to imagine the routes African music had to take before landing on our laptops; he traces the story for us from his handshake to hard drive. Read Lebrave's essay on moving to Ghana from FADER #82 here, and check out six great songs he's touched below.

DJ Satelite f. Pastilha, “Moto” (Akwaaba 2012)
Some years ago, the FADER staff got obsessed with kuduro, an Angolan dance music, largely through some janky YouTube clips of DJ Znobia, who we never could get a hold of. There have been other brief kuduro love affairs since, but DJ Satelite is poised to best them all with “Moto.” This song is nasty. Starting with a simple, tiny drum rhythm and built up with synth gurgles, a wood block and Pastilha yelling Moto!, this song could kill open-minded clubs anywhere. While I’m betting it never gets the chance, here’s hoping. MS

Iba Diabaté, “Wala Yalala” Mouna (Akwaaba 2010)
In 2008, The FADER released an issue that primarily featured artists from Africa. A bunch of editors traveled there, but I was new to the staff, so I sat around New York wondering what it was like in Ghana (probably hot). Traveling for work was a new concept for me, and since I wasn’t doing it, I created my own version in my starter apartment. I lit a lot of incense (not sure why) and listened to as many Ethiopian compilations as I could afford (only like four). While those Ethiopian records favored snaky horns and creeping bass lines, Mali’s Iba Diabaté is all sun and glitter, stop-start guitar and gorgeously loose vocals. It makes the world seem way less chaotic than it actually is. SHS

Junior Freeman & African Soldier, “Damyarea” Lone Stars Vol. 1: Hipco & Gbema (Akwaaba 2011)
When I was chemically wide-eyed and writing long papers at school, I’d prop up my computer to standing height and type-dance to jubilant, double-time African songs like this. The music’s pep helped bolster my flagging energy, and with the singers’ dialects incomprehensible to my elsewhere-focused brain, my sentences rolled out faster with melodies built in. Attentively listening to the soul-lifting “Damyarea”—a Liberian portmanteau of “that’s my area”— reveals lyrics more compelling than whatever I spitballed for poli-sci: Everybody got a area, your area is your area/ Some people area to be the senator, some people area to be up and down in the street. Wish I’d paid more attention back then; wish I’d just said that. DC

E.L., “Obuu Mo” Something Else (Akwaaba 2012)
E.L. is the Ghanaian rapper most credited with helping sweep the Azonto dance craze across his country, and “Obuu Mo” is perhaps the perfect song to practice its moves. Azonto takes grace and aggression, combining leg wiggles with a stunted heaving of the arms like a boxer sidling up to an opponent. It’s the Muhammad Ali of dances, and to do it well you need to be a mix of butterfly and bee. YouTube is full of amateur Azonto clips, but E.L.’s official video is unbeatable. He looks like he’s at the most fun house party in Africa, where teams of people dance the moves he made famous, overwhelming every room. AF


Cash Unit f. Castro and Screwface, “Ayoo” (Internet 2010)
In Ghana, people shout Ayoo! when howling with pleasure. It’s like yelping a thumbs-up to your partner in bed for a job well done. This entire song’s a climax. For five grinning minutes, four Ghanaian voices tangle with each other, firing off gorgeous phrases you’ve never heard or eschewing words for sound patterns (Semanamanamanamannnna!). The song’s most exceptional pipes belong to Castro, whose studio-treated soprano reaches higher than Mariah’s, but the most explicit star is one of the Cash Unit brothers—Stonzzi or Linzzi, not sure which—with his wail: I love youuu/ So I’m not gonna make no wrong mooove/ Tonight I’m gonna rub youuu. NZ


Just a Band, “Tingiza Kichwa” 82 (Akwaaba 2010)
Named for the year each member was born, Just a Band’s 82 LP marked a new level of exposure for the Nairobi group, mainly due to their campy blaxploitation video for “Ha-He,” the first video out of Kenya to go globally viral. But take a spin through some of 82’s other offerings and you’ll see that even without kitsch visual accompaniment, there’s plenty that warrants repeated listening, particularly album closer “Tingiza Kichwa.” Meaning “Shake Your Head” in Swahili, it’s got a mellow, infectious build and a sing-songy imperative to nod yes and sway low. And just when it feels like the track will evaporate into ambient party chatter, the band segues 180-degrees into an outro of slow funk and velvet harmonies that would make Sade weep. AB

Footnotes: Akwaaba